‘Global Greens’: an Exclusive Interview with James Sheehan

Published July 1, 1999

James M. Sheehan is director of international environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a nonprofit think tank based in Washington, DC. CEI is dedicated to the principles of free enterprise, individual liberty, and limited government.

At CEI, Sheehan specializes in policies concerning international environmental regulation, international financial institutions, and world trade. His current research interests include the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, taxpayer funding of environmental lobbying organizations, and the role of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in precipitating the Asian financial crisis. Recently, Sheehan testified before the Committee on International Relations of the U.S. House of Representatives regarding the Overseas Private Investment Corporation as an instrument of corporate welfare.

Sheehan has represented CEI at two United Nations conferences where the global warming treaty was being negotiated (in Kyoto, Japan and Buenos Aires, Argentina). He also participated in the first World Trade Organization ministerial summit in Singapore. At these international meetings, Sheehan witnessed the important role played by environmental pressure groups in the formation of international regulatory policies.

Sheehan is the author of Global Greens: Inside the International Environmental Establishment, published in late 1998 by the Capital Research Center. It chronicles the rising influence of international environmental advocacy organizations and the worldwide non-governmental organization (NGO) movement. In addition, the book contains funding information on prominent environmental pressure groups, including both foundation and government sources.

Cohen: Who are the global greens?

Sheehan: The global greens are a movement of internationally organized pressure groups who have mastered the internal workings of the United Nations, the World Bank, and other international agencies. They conduct their affairs as “non-governmental organizations” (NGOs) with special representative status at these agencies. These groups are usually based in the United States or Western Europe. Examples include the Environmental Defense Fund, Greenpeace, World Resources Institute, and the World Wildlife Fund.

Cohen: Do the global greens receive their funding from public or private sources?

Sheehan: Both. Many environmental lobby groups receive sizable grants from charitable foundations, and they have large mailing lists of individual donors. However, most are also government-funded. The Environmental Protection Agency pays them to organize, lobby, and perform research on behalf of the government. The World Bank funds NGOs through its Global Environment Facility, an agency that funds various global warming and biodiversity projects in the Third World. Canada, Germany, and the Nordic countries also provide considerable direct funding for NGOs.

It is ironic that such groups call themselves “non-governmental” when they rely so heavily on government grants.

Cohen: In what way do the global greens coordinate their activities with the United Nations?

Sheehan: By obtaining non-governmental organization status, they are able to participate in various UN treaty negotiations and conferences around the world. At these meetings and at earlier preparatory conferences that precede the formal gatherings, NGOs do their best to influence the course of negotiations. In population control and global warming conferences, for example, they advise diplomats and even serve on government delegations.

In some cases, NGOs serve on scientific advisory panels that define the UN’s position on important scientific controversies. On the global warming issue, for example, the international environmental movement has used a UN scientific panel to spread the fallacy that a consensus of climate scientists agrees that mankind is responsible for warmer weather, the spread of tropical diseases, and natural disasters.

Cohen: Could you give us some examples of how the NGOs have influenced international treaties?

Sheehan: Starting with the Montreal Protocol in 1987, they timed their lobbying campaigns to coincide with UN meetings and conferences on particular issues. When the scientific review bodies of the UN were completing their analysis of the ozone layer, the Environmental Defense Fund had a man on the inside, who helped to write the official UN interpretation of the science. After the UN report was released to the news media, EDF immediately issued its own report trumpeting the need for action. Though the underlying scientific case was weak or non-existent, pressure groups were able to utilize media attention to force policymakers into a corner. They were successful in manufacturing a crisis mentality and in shaping public opinion.

Similar activities have followed suit. In the population control arena, International Planned Parenthood Federation ran the show. It controlled various country delegations to the 1994 Cairo conference on population and development, where it tried to silence dissenting views from Roman Catholic and Islamic countries. Various allies in the feminist movement saw Cairo as an opportunity to ratify abortion rights for the entire world, while ecologists saw it as a venue to enforce limits on the planet’s population of human beings. The official documents arising from the Cairo process reflect the Malthusian, anti-human world view of population control NGOs.

Cohen: Is there a kind of revolving door that exists among NGOs, various UN agencies, and governments supportive of these global initiatives, such as the Clinton administration?

Sheehan: Ted Turner’s United Nations Foundation, which is donating $1 billion to the UN, is headed by Tim Wirth, a former high-ranking State Department official in the Clinton administration. When he was a diplomat, Wirth coordinated much of the US government’s global environmental initiatives.

Others moved in the opposite direction. Council on Environmental Quality chairman and former Interior Department official George Frampton used to be head of the Wilderness Society, an environmental advocacy group. While Frampton was at Interior, he worked with his old organization to sabotage the New World Mine project in Montana. The Wilderness Society helped Frampton devise a plan to invite the UN’s World Heritage Committee to Montana to declare the proposed mine a threat to Yellowstone National Park. This action complicated the federal permitting process already under way, and had the effect of dramatically raising the landowners’ cost to obtain a permit.

There are numerous examples like these of government-NGO connections. The most prominent green figure is Maurice Strong, a Canadian multi-millionaire who occupies powerful positions in both government and nonprofit organizations. He was secretary-general of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and currently serves as a special adviser to the UN chief Kofi Annan. He is also on the board of directors of the World Resources Institute and Turner’s UN Foundation. He is sort of a Godfather figure for the global greens.

Cohen: How does the World Bank figure in to all this?

Sheehan: Maurice Strong was very influential in the selection of James Wolfensohn to head the World Bank. Before his appointment, the entire environmental movement was highly critical of the World Bank. The NGOs were basically calling for the agency to be eliminated. It had financed the destruction of rainforests in Brazil and committed horrific environmental atrocities. Its loans were used by Third World governments to force citizens out of their homes and to resettle them in new locales against their will.

Once Wolfensohn arrived at the World Bank, the environmental pressure groups started to change their tune. They scaled back their criticisms and started to work on World Bank advisory committees. They applied for and received grants from the World Bank to help implement various Third World biodiversity and global warming projects. These schemes effectively stifle fossil fuel-based economic development and control land use in poorer countries. The World Bank has done an excellent job of co-opting the environmental movement by re-packaging itself as a “sustainable development” promotion agency.

Cohen: People generally associate the UN and the NGOs with such high-profile issues as the Kyoto Protocol. But aren’t these forces active in other areas?

Sheehan: NGOs are waging war on biotechnology, especially in Europe where they have scared much of the population into believing that genetically modified crops are environmentally hazardous. In reality, new crop varieties are the key to increasing crop yields while at the same time reducing the need for pesticides and herbicides. Greenpeace has become violent in its attempts to stop the sale of genetically modified soybeans. It has attacked facilities which process, ship, and sell soy-based products.

In the area of forestry, NGOs are attempting to craft international treaties that would restrict the amount each country could harvest. Those talks are stalled, and may be deadlocked for the foreseeable future. Many environmental activist groups became disenchanted with this treaty because they lost control of the process early on. They are struggling to regain their footing.

Cohen: In your view, do the activities of these groups threaten national sovereignty?

Sheehan: NGOs are promoting themselves as representatives of the public at the UN and other international agencies. However, the public did not appoint these groups to a representative role. Rather, sovereign states are supposed to represent the interests of the people. National governments, for all their problems, have at least some semblance of accountability. NGOs do not. They are simply self-appointed guardians of the “public good.”

It is impossible for NGOs to be accountable when the people are largely unaware of their activities at the international level. Rather than representing public interests and values, the NGOs are usually handmaidens for some rich foundation or government agency. With so much government money flowing to environmental advocacy groups, it is difficult to regard them as independent.

By blurring the lines of accountability, NGOs are undermining sovereignty. In the case of the New World Mine, NGOs collaborated to invite a UN agency to weigh in on a domestic dispute. Local governments and citizens were unaware that land near Yellowstone Park had been designated by the UN as a World Heritage Site under an obscure international agreement. As a consequence, NGOs and international agencies were claiming as much decision-making authority as local landowners.

In certain situations, this problem could get much worse. If the Kyoto treaty is ratified, the U.S. will be delegating important government functions to an international agency. Enforcement measures have not yet been finalized, but the Yellowstone controversy makes clear the very real dangers in this area. The U.S. economy could someday be subject to economic sanctions or other legal mechanisms which implicate national sovereignty.

Cohen: It would appear that the global greens are a small but powerful group of elitists, almost all of them from industrialized nations. How are they and some of their schemes being received in underdeveloped countries?

Sheehan: Not well. In the population arena, countries like Nicaragua, Argentina, and Egypt are four-square opposed to the Malthusian agenda. They have stymied global green efforts and forced the population controllers back to the drawing board.

Many Third World countries resent what they see as “eco-imperialism”–the desire of First World environmental extremists to restrict the use of energy and natural resources in the poorer countries. Their argument is, if the U.S. and Europe were allowed to develop, why can’t we? The global greens promise them aid and technical assistance, but this can go only so far.

Poorer countries will never achieve their economic ambitions by relying on solar power and the other alternative energies that the global greens have in mind. All of these so-called alternatives are more expensive, and cannot compete with traditional fossil fuels. Many people who live in the developing world see the environmentalist agenda as highly immoral. A poor society cannot afford to foreclose the cheapest and most abundant form of energy–nor should it.

Cohen: How can those who believe in free markets and national sovereignty, and who reject the social engineering of international elites, defend themselves against the global greens?

Sheehan: As with any mischievous force in politics, all one must do to understand its motivation is follow the money. The best defense at this point would be to advocate total de-funding of the global green movement in the congressional appropriations process. Taxpayers, consumers, and businesses who are being affected adversely should demand that no further taxpayer dollars be given to environmental lobby groups through government grants and foreign aid spending.

Wasteful programs at the EPA, World Bank, and United Nations should receive careful scrutiny. Congress should reject UN demands for payment of so-called “back dues,” which are actually voluntary contributions Congress suspended in order to prevent further waste, fraud, and abuse at the world agency.

Right now, government agencies at the national and international levels are the lifeblood of the global green movement. It cannot sustain itself without massive continued infusions of government funds.

James Sheehan’s book, Global Greens: Inside the International Environmental Establishment, can be ordered by calling 800/459-3950, or purchased on the Internet at Amazon.com.